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The Weakerthans

It may worry you that we're extolling the greatness of a rabidly intellectual, politically-inclined folk-punk band from Winnipeg. (Hell, we don't even know what extolling means.) But the Weakerthans are different. They drop leftist ideology and literary markers into their tunes with self-deprecating charm, squeezing them between urgent guitar riffs, ringing pop hooks, and self-aware jokes about the kind of idealistic fools who try to change the world but can't remember to change their socks.

For Fans Of: The melodic jangle of R.E.M., Bright Eyes' angsty overtures, the righteous punk-rock stomps of the Clash, and Billy Bragg's folksy mix of personal confession, political activism, and sly humor.

Thumbnail History: The Weakerthans are largely the vision of John K. Samson, who formed the band in 1997 with drummer Jason Tait and bassist John Sutton (recently replaced by Greg Smith). After their debut album, Fallow, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Stephen Carroll joined the fray, helping to bring a more expansive sound to their 2000 effort, Left And Leaving. Somehow, 2003's Reconstruction Site was less bleak, more serious, and more fun than any of their previous efforts. The band is currently working on album number four.

Accolades: Over the years, the band has collected a handful of Juno Awards (kind of the like the Grammys except way more Canadian), and recently saw their frantic indie-rock ode to twentysomething malaise, "Aside," land a plum spot during the closing credits to Wedding Crashers.

Required Listening: The propulsive "Confessions Of A Futon-Revolutionist" is the sound of idealism hanging on when it's got no reason to; "Wellington's Wednesday" twists New Order's "Temptation" into a detailed portrait of bar-hopping through Winnipeg; "Watermark" sets Samson's little-engine-that-could vocals to a lively crush of guitars and pounding drums; the hilarious "Plea From A Cat Named Virtute" is the best motivational song ever written from the standpoint of a housecat; the country-inflected "One Great City!" is a vicious hometown anthem.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: "The first song I learned to play guitar and sing to at the same time was a Tom Waits song called 'Time,'" Samson says. "It was a pretty odd picture: I was about 13, my voice had just broken, and there I was in my parents' suburban home during the Christmas holidays singing one of the most world-weary songs ever."

She Left You, Move On: Although Samson's got more than his fair share of songs about girls he drunk-dialed at 4 A.M., he's forced himself past that. "There's a danger in relying for too long on the 'You-done-me-wrong/I-hate-my-parents/My-friends-are-annoying' themes that all novice songwriters write about. There's nothing wrong with those songs, I just think that after a certain point you should have a quota---you should only be able to have two songs per record like that. The other ones, you should challenge yourself to write about other things."

Dumbing It Down: "A huge element in music today that drives me nuts is all these well-educated, smart young people starting garage bands and pretending that they're stupid. One of the worst things about the world right now is people being afraid of sounding smart. I mean, I think Jackass is hilarious, but I don't want it to be the foundation of our entire culture."

---David Peisner

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